Monday, May 3, 2021

FN International Editor: John Henry And The "Soccer Super League"

by Mark Lawrence, International Editor

Sydney, Australia—I've never given much thought to the game of soccer.  I've never given so much as a rat's narrow behind about it, to be honest.  But this latest brouhaha over in the Old Dart is relevant to any one who's ever handed their hard-earned to the ticket takers down on that street outside Fenway Park - I forget what they're calling it these days.          

The British soccer fan has been quite a bit het up lately.  Why?  Well, partly because of the pallid presence of John Henry, owner of a little outfit called the Fenway Sports Group.  FSG owns the Liverpool Football Club and - for those who don't know - Liverpool has a fan base whose passion rivals that of Red Sox Nation - and probably even exceeds it. The Club uses a song from the musical Carousel as its motto and its anthem - You'll Never Walk Alone - and they belt it out louder and stronger than poor old Sweet Caroline every chance they get.               

John and his pals somehow got the bright idea that they could futz with English Football - soccer, to you and me - and no one would much care.  They made the fatal assumption that soccer fans would docilely accept a European Super League comprised of the highest-priced teams and happily kick over even more dough at the turnstiles for the privilege.  The idea was simple: the best clubs would form their own competition within the game's existing structure.  But it goes a little deeper than that and the concern down here and elsewhere is that John and his fellow MLB owners might try and pull the same gag with Baseball.  As Nick O'Malley ( neatly puts it, imagine if the Yankees, the Dodgers, our own beloved Red Sox and 'other big-money teams joined a separate league with the top Korean and Japanese teams to start their own playoffs and World Series that they’d play for, in addition to normal Major League Baseball. Smaller market teams would get a chance to play, but the big-money teams would always have a seat in the playoffs.'               

Sounds pretty sleazy, doesn't it? I mean, wouldn't that make the Fall Classic essentially a bit of a joke? If a bonehead like your Downunder Correspondent can see it, surely the stock-ticker minds of Henry et al had to have seen it too?  Well, no, actually.  It looks like they didn't.  

One of the Super League cabal members, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, said they came up with the plan because young people are 'no longer interested in football' due to 'a lot of poor-quality games'.  

I found some interesting research from a fan-intel outfit called Ear to the Ground.  They're based over in the UK and while they're not exactly Polity Research, the data they gathered shows that Florentino doesn't have a firm handle on what those Real Madrid fans are feeling.  According to the Ear guys, almost 90% of soccer fans think Perez - and his super-rich pals - are simply full of it.  As one of the Ear guys put it: “It’s about knowing what your audiences care about, and the role you play for them,” (This is Owen Laverty, director of fan intelligence) “We know there are smart people working across all of these clubs, but it feels like these decisions about a breakaway league were made in boardrooms by individuals who were disconnected from the real world and potentially misunderstood the values of the people that this mattered to the most - the fans…"  Ear to the Ground is very likely making some serious scratch from simply identifying what's important to sports fans and acting accordingly.  And if John Henry hasn't already taken steps to go and do likewise, well - he might not be as smart as he thinks he is.  Owning a globally recognized sports franchise - like the Boston Red Sox - is not just having some awesome money-making machine, it's a deadly serious responsibility.  John Henry and the other super-rich MLB owners have a duty to the Game and an obligation to the Fans.  And you wanna know something? Up until this Super League debacle, I felt reasonably comfortable with Henry's stewardship of our club.              

Now, I'm not so sure. How about you?